Author’s Note: “The title means Song of Gratitude, the title Beethoven gave to the third movement of one of his last compositions. He died in his fifties, but two hundred years ago people didn’t live as long as we do now. I’m 81, and if at my age I didn’t think about my own mortality, I’d be ignoring something rather obvious. The poem is a contemplation of my long life, old age, and eventual death.”
Canzona di Ringraziamento
Beethoven, string quartet number 15
in A Minor, Opus 132
If there’s a key for every decade of our life,
A Minor’s the key for my ninth.
It’s getting dark,
and outside the concert hall in Budapest
a thunderstorm blows.
Inside, the house lights go down
and the cellist agitates the low string
with his horsehair bow
like a long spoon muddling spirits
the color of mahogany in a glass.
People in the balconies feel the march
of thunder outside.
A man in evening dress in one of the stalls
takes out a gold watch and looks at it
and wonders, like me, what it means to die.
Look for a place above sorrow,
the cello sings.
The viola finds a channel
under the brilliance of the violins,
whose strings touch every nerve.
Find forgiveness for your transgressions,
the viola tells me.
Feel tenderness even toward yourself.
A Minor’s the key of ripeness, of resolution—
you can feel it in the hall
above the thunder appassionato.
The solemnity of a cortège
paces in the adagio,
and yet Beethoven calls his third movement canzona
di ringraziamento, a song of gratitude.
for this music that says no matter what,
we’re not done yet.
Richard Tillinghast’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry, American Poetry Review, Paris Review, and elsewhere. He is the author of twelve books of poetry and five of creative non-fiction. His thirteenth book of poetry, Blue If Only I Could Tell You, is forthcoming in 2022 (White Pine Press). He has received grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the NEA, the British Council, and the Irish Arts Council. A native of Memphis, he has lived in Ireland and now divides his time between Hawaii and Sewanee, Tennessee.
Tillinghast’s “Canzona di Ringraziamento” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The poem is from the 14th annual Delmarva Review. In this, the review’s largest edition, editors selected the poetry, fiction, and nonfiction of seventy authors that stood out from thousands of submissions during the year. The review is available in print and eBook editions from Amazon.com and major online booksellers, as well as from Mystery Loves Company and other regional specialty bookstores.
The independent journal is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit literary publication with funding from tax-deductible contributions, sales, and a public grant from Talbot Arts with revenues from the Maryland State Arts Council.
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